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Architects seek London version of city-wide Paris contest

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Architects have called on Boris Johnson to launch a London version of Paris’ new urban regeneration contest

Last week Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo launched an international competition seeking ‘innovative urban projects’ for a range of sites across the French capital.

Architects and developers have been invited to draw up visions for 23 city-owned sites – including office blocks and mansion houses – to help Paris ‘reinvent itself’.

RCKa director Russell Curtis praised the contest’s ‘bold approach to addressing [a] chronic housing problem’ and called on Johnson to launch a rival scheme.

He said: ‘It would be wonderful if the Mayor of London were to adopt a similarly innovative programme of site disposal.’

He continued: ‘Whether developer-led schemes would achieve the same lofty ambitions if applied to London is debatable, but clearly this provides an excellent precedent for how great architecture might be used to tackle complex urban challenges across the city.’

Simon Henley of Henley Halebrown Rorrison suggested a city-wide contest focussing on innovation could save London from more ‘polite, often mediocre’ and conformist development.

He said: ‘Debate [here] is limited to mix, density and height. Competition scenarios ought to throw up a more eclectic approach to urban quarters, and potentially, better architecture and a more interesting city.’  

ADP chair Roger FitzGerald argued ‘maximising returns and safeguarding investments’ are the main driving force behind development in the UK capital.

‘Something like the Paris model could help, so long as proposals are assessed as much for the quality of ideas as for financial viability.’

He added: ‘The quirky, innovative and experimental should be positively encouraged, and London would be a better place for having more diversity.’

Not all commentators were however convinced by the contest which will see winning teams offered the right to buy or rent their competition plot.

Alireza Sagharchi of Stanhope Gate Architecture described the project as ‘more like a publicity stunt for a fire sale’.

He explained: ‘The French economy  is in trouble and you can be sure that if the sites had real value they would have gone by now.’ 

Chris Romer-Lee of Studio Octopi argued architects and developers do not need a ‘leg-up’ to make an impact on a city.

He said: ‘Architects need to be more entrepreneurial and seek to bring their visions to the public regardless of what the mayor thinks or wants.’

Romer-Lee said his Thames Baths proposal for a floating swimming pool in the river was one example of how the profession can introduce innovation independently.




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